The Hunter’s $565 million a year thoroughbred industry is so disgusted with its treatment by the NSW Department of Planning and lack of political support from the Baird government that it is on the verge of leaving the region.
That was the clear message that came through two days of public hearings before the Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) into Anglo American’s Drayton South Coal Project near Muswellbrook.
Speaker after speaker condemned the department and the flawed planning system it represented that left a world class industry at risk, caused significant divisions within local communities and placed so many people and businesses in limbo for years.
These speakers could not believe they had to front yet again and argue it was not possible to operate a horse stud 900 metres from an open cut mine.
This was the fourth PAC hearing in four years into the Drayton South open cut proposal that will create a new mine extracting 75 million tonnes of coal over its 15 year life.
Owners Anglo American have either sold or are about to sell the project should it gain approval to another miner – perhaps its neighbour Malabar Coal or Australian Pacific Coal, a company associated with the Tinkler, Paspaley and Robinson families.
Coal has once again become an attractive ‘plaything’ for certain investors given it 70 per cent price rise this year.
However Tim Buckley – Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis told PAC that the coal price rise is a short term ‘blip’ and the last thing existing miners need is more mines coming online and once again depressing prices.
The sheer frustration with the planning process for the thoroughbred industry was summed up by NSW Farmers representative Tim Duddy well known for his campaign to stop open cut mining on the Liverpool Plains.
“The miners come back over and over again till they get they get what they want,” Mr Duddy said.
He added its about time the NSW Government got real about protecting the thoroughbred industry.
The failure of the Baird Government and the Department of Planning to understand the dynamics of the thoroughbred industry means the two largest players in the industry Coolmore and Darley are seriously looking to relocate their businesses to Victoria.
This is no idle threat as Darley already owns a substantial property in that state. If they move the Hunter’s industry would most likely return to its former ‘cottage like’’ status resulting in a loss of hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars of income.
Speaking on behalf of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, Tom Reilly said in the last five years no farm in the Hunter Valley has been sold to an overseas investor.
“These investors, as well as local investors, are going elsewhere preferring to put their money typically into Victorian properties,”he said.
Inglis Bloodstock, national director Jonathan D’Arcy estimated more than $20 million worth of investment has been lost to the Hunter due to threats posed from open cut mining.
Mr Reilly said no breeder was happy to have their foals raised 900 metres from a coal mine.
And that is how close Drayton South mine will be to Darley and Coolmore studs.
Mr Reilly like many speakers including businessman and horse breeder Darryl Guihot described the Department of Planning’s review and recommendation to approve the Drayton South project as extremely flawed.
“The Department says the Hunter industry can survive the loss of the two biggest players in the world – no it won’t,” Mr Reilly said.
“They argue should those two studs leave other players will come in and replace them – no they won’t.
“There are not any other players with the expertise and know how in the thoroughbred industry – Darley and Coolmore are the best in the world. They have spent millions investing in the best stallions, few other players can compete at this level.”
Mr Guihot echoed those sentiments as he described the Department’s review as amateurish.
He said their figures were incorrect and they simply did not understand how the thoroughbred industry worked.
“People like me spend $700m/year on our breeding programs – that will disappear if we think the product is tainted due to mining activity,” he said.
“Now if we move our broodmares out of the Hunter the region’s broodmare farms will be down a further $300m/year. By my estimates the NSW Government is happy to lose a $1 billion/year industry – that makes absolutely no sense.”
Winemake Thomas Hordern said the Department of Planning and the government don’t get it that horse studs and grape growing is incompatible with mining.
But the last word will be left to fifth generation Denman Road farmer Grantley Blake who said to loud applause at PAC the government is as weak as water and mine managers who argue dust doesn’t leave the mine site are a pack of liars.